9 THINGS YOU LEARN BEING A LIFETIME ATHLETE

Sports.

Life.

It’s all such a wonderful cycle. There are no guarantees as to how it will end and there’s certainly no easy path or template, but if you stay in the game, stick with your program and never give up on your goals, you will find fulfillment (and maybe even a spot on that podium).


9 THINGS YOU LEARN BEING A LIFETIME ATHLETE

The inner athlete never dies, it only evolves. The habits and patterns you develop today are the foundation for future goals. Be intentional about what you create and never stop learning.

Goals deferred, or important games lost, will sting. Sometimes that sting doesn’t go away, ever. You can reconcile it in your life and you can move on, but that sting teaches us our goals matter. It teaches us that not achieving something we’ve fought and trained for is an important part of learning and growing.

Best thing to take the edge off the sting is to get up and go again. You have to keep striving.

It’s important not to mistake your deferred dreams for someone else’s current dreams. We each have our own. Let others dream their dreams and keep yours in a safe place for you – even the ones that don’t happen.

The most epic things comes from the most basic people. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Grandiose “epicness” is not sustainable. Don’t chase it.

Chase consistent work and good character instead.

Age is a number. It’s the number that tells you how many years you have played or trained. How many years you haven’t. How many years you took to figure things out once you stopped playing. How many years it took to get back in the gym after an injury. Though it’s a number, it’s not a prison sentence nor does it define you, so don’t treat it like one.

Whether you’ve won championships together or lost too many matches to count, your teammates are always your teammates. The result is not as important as what you did together during that season. The hours training, the hours traveling, the hours doing work when nobody else was doing work – that is where life happens. Some victories cannot be measured in points.

Winning at life doesn’t always show up on a scoreboard.

Belief in yourself only comes because someone else believed in you first and there are more of those people than you think.

You are only as strong as you are stable. In life. In sports. In relationships (also in your scapula).

When you show up and work every single day, hard work just becomes part of the equation. It’s easy math.


Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball (indoor and beach) and continues to learn and grow in hopes of inspiring the next generation of amazing athletes.

Sorry, Kid…

Sorry, Kid…

I’m not going to carry your baseball bag. It’s your equipment, your sport, your bag. You carry it.

Sorry, Kid…

I’m not going to tell you you’re the best player on the team if you have a bad attitude and you don’t work hard at getting better. Getting better takes hard work and if you don’t want to work hard (and it’s okay if you don’t), then you won’t get any better.

Sorry, Kid…

Someone else’s hard work is harder than yours. That might always be the case. Only way to find out is to work smarter and harder and longer than every one else while simultaneously not worrying about anyone else’s work but your own.

Sorry, Kid…

That’s not ESPN video taping your practice and nobody wants to interview you after.

Sorry, Kid…

These are the rules and if you don’t follow the rules in this sport, there are consequences on and off the field.


Sorry, Kid…

Losing stinks. I’ve lost more than my share of games. It’s a terrible feeling, but with every loss we have the opportunity to learn something and get better and I’m not going anywhere. I’m here no matter what – I’m in this with you.

Sorry, Kid…

Not being the fastest kid on the field is hard. Going up a level and not being the best is hard after being the best at the last level, but trust the process – when you listen, take feedback and get after it when no one is watching, you will get better. You may not ever be the fastest kid, but if you keep pushing, you will be in the game longer and out last many who throw in the towel before you.

Sorry, Kid…

Being on the bench is hard. Wanting to play and knowing you can play is hard when the lineup paper gets signed by the coach, not you. But you are still on the team and, therefore are still a contributor. Contribute in whatever way you can. Whether that’s to make the starter’s better or to encourage them from the sidelines, you do your part. Don’t ever stop doing your part.

Sorry, Kid…

Hard work is, well, hard. I wish I could tell you it was easy or that all the breaks go your way, but I can’t. Life stings sometimes, but it’s also quite amazing sometimes. We have to take our knocks, get back up and go again and every effort looks different than the last one, so just keep getting back up.

Sorry, Kid…

You are stuck with me. I know you think others have given up on you, but I haven’t. You can’t get rid of me. I may be silent and I may not say much to you after a game or after a tough loss or break, but I’m still here. When you are ready, I will be here to listen or talk to cry or whatever, you will always have me for that.

Being a parent of a kid in youth sports is about choosing your opportunities to teach and choosing your opportunities to connect and bond. The moment is today, right now – not ten years down the road. My kids like to dream and they like to imagine themselves on the big stage, but my actions and my words as a parent are vital to their character, like, right now. I just keep telling myself when I show up, I need to be there for them today. Not their future self (though lessons will help guide that), but who they are today. The stakes seem to get higher as they get older, but they don’t have to. Keep it simple and remember these are the same kids who colored on your dresser with crayon.


Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball (indoor and beach) and hopes to pass on her love for the sport to the next generation of amazing athletes and leaders.

 

Staying Connected to Alumni Groups and Sports Programs After Graduation

This photo represents over 30 years of Georgia volleyball from the inaugural coach of the program, Sid Feldman to the current head coach, Tom Black. My very own assistant was honored for her achievement as a bulldog player, coach and her life beyond Georgia.
This photo represents over 30 years of Georgia volleyball from the inaugural coach of the program, Sid Feldman, to the current head coach, Tom Black. My coach, Jenny McDowell, was honored for her achievement as a bulldog student-athlete, coach and the impact she has had in her career beyond Georgia Volleyball.

Over the past five years or so, I’ve seen more live football games than I saw in my four years of college.

You might think that’s weird for someone who went to school in the SEC (a hotbed for college football) but, alas, I was a collegiate athlete. A collegiate athlete who shared the same Fall season as the South’s beloved college football and when we weren’t travelling or practicing or lifting or being tired and actually had a two-hour block on a Saturday to enjoy the games like all the regular students did…we just figured we’d watch it from home and re-hash the game with our friends.

Our friends were the ones on the field.

Kids just like us trying to figure it all out while carrying a full load of classes and training for our sport.

But college sports is much more than football. The University of Georgia alone has nineteen varsity sports teams comprised of anywhere from 20 to over 100 athletes per team and while we are full-time college students who enjoy being on a college campus and having a college experience, we are also in a microcosm that includes early registration, tutors, academic services, sports psychology counseling, food per diem, state of the art training facilities, sport specific athletic gear and nutrition plans to name a few – very few.

As wonderful as it all sounds (and it is most days), there comes a time when graduation nears and real life begins to set in.

I still remember the fresh sting of my first off-season after my playing career was over. I didn’t need to be at practice. I didn’t need to be in the weight room. I just had to be at class – down time is truly the enemy of a driven student-athlete if you don’t know how to manage it.

After all my sweat, tears, blood, road trips, laughing until it hurt, powerful moments with teammates and coaches, wins and losses, it was time to move on – that was a hard pill to swallow. But I’m probably the only one who has ever felt that way (said no student-athlete ever).

Current student-athletes on Georgia's LEAD team represent a select group of student-athletes looking to develop and advance leadership qualities in sport and academics.
Current student-athletes on Georgia’s L.E.A.D team represent a select group of student-athletes looking to develop and advance leadership qualities in sport and academics.

It’s why as alumni, our stories can be a valuable resource to those outgoing seniors staring that great wide world right in the face and being excited and scared all at the same time.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ways to leverage your influence for current student-athletes and outgoing seniors:

Share your story – whether online through social media or in your group of influence, share your experience. Maybe you transitioned easier than some maybe you didn’t, share that. Talk about what worked for you and what didn’t. Talk about where you struggled most to find fulfilling work. Talk about those jobs you took just to pay the bills. Talk about whether or not your degree has helped you or if you found work outside your field of study.

Go back for you Alumni weekend – My joke has been that I flew half way across the country for a t-shirt and a free pom-pom, but what I’ve learned in recent years is my effort to connect and go back is bigger than what I GET from the experience; it’s about what I can GIVE back by going. Don’t just go back and sit in the stands and leave. Have conversations, connect with the team and/or coach if you can. They won’t fully understand your presence right now, but having alum in the stands means you are a program worth coming back for, not based solely on wins, but based on a shared experience.

Meet with athletes – When possible (and within compliance), meet with current athletes. Ask them questions. Listen. What are their goals outside of sports? How is school? Remember, they are in that same microcosm you were in and though they may have many friends outside of it, nobody will quite understand it like former student-athletes do.

Follow on Social – Just by following your groups and teams on social media you will create a connection with former, current and future student-athletes. You can see how your team is doing, who the new recruits are, what the coaching philosophy is, where the program is now as opposed to how it was when you played and so much more.

I’ve connected and reconnected with so many people through social media groups and individual athletes for my sport and have loved seeing the program and players progress.

Shared Experiences Connect People – Because we have been where they have been, we can be honest about our experience. Our biggest asset to them is the fact that we’ve already been there. We know it takes work, we know no one is going to give us a job we didn’t earn or aren’t qualified for and we know that no matter how connected we are, we still had to work for our careers. The good news is we have our athletic background and experience that mirrors this process one for one. Work hard, learn from your mistakes and keep moving.

We all have lives after sports – and thank goodness we do, but if there is a chance to share truth to those who are just emerging into that reality, let’s do that. It’s a full circle that’s worth replicating again and again.


graduating-seniorPriscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She currently coaches high school volleyball and hopes to pass on her love for the sport to the next generation of amazing athletes and leaders.

Through Tunnels and Over Mountains

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There’s this stretch of mountainside road, a tunnel actually, that connects Switzerland and Italy.

It’s the Great St. Bernard Tunnel (I know! How cute is that name?) and goes through the Swiss Alps and pops you out on the Italian side. Two lanes, one in each direction, with a very sketchy guard rail on one side that approaches the tunnel and solid mountain on the other.

I was living in Geneva, Switzerland playing volleyball and every now and again, we would get a couple of days off. Being twenty-something and wanting to explore the world, I used that time to do just that – explore. Depending on how much time we had, it could be Paris by train for an overnight, Annecy for a day trip and groceries, Lucerne or Lausanne to visit other Americans in Switzerland playing or Milan for shopping and all the pizza.

The drive to Milan was maybe four hours from Geneva by car, but you had to go through the Great St. Bernard Tunnel to get there. My Mazda 121 was fine for city driving, but whenever it snowed, this Texas girl white knuckled that steering wheel and hoped and prayed my little car would deliver me and my passengers safely wherever I was going.

Driving on a slick road, through a tunnel with Alp on one side and bottom of Alp on the other side was no easy feat for this out-of-towner.

But, we made it – there and back – twice (in the snow and slush) and Milan is beautiful.


“For most of its 5,798-metre (6,341 yd) length the tunnel runs in a straight line, but incorporating a gentle slope. The northern end is 1,918 m (6,293 ft) above sea level while the southern end is only 1,875 m (6,152 ft) above sea level. At both ends, the approach road to the tunnel is covered by a gallery / avalanche shelter in order to minimize the risk of access to the tunnel being temporarily blocked during bad weather.” – Wikipedia.com

Life can seem a lot like that journey through the Alps some days. It might be a personal crisis, a loss, a sudden illness or a season of growth that can put us on that narrow path in life turning a simple ten minute drive through the tunnel into a storehouse of broken down cars and frayed nerves; and while our desired destination might be a beautiful sight to see, the tunnel can often feel lonely, scary and with no end in sight.

But that’s the thing, if we are going to arrive safely to our destination, we need to keep our eyes on the road. We have to put one foot in front of the other or white knuckle the steering wheel and trust our destination is just outside those tunnel walls. Once you have been through enough tunnels, you start to realize when you keep moving, you always come out the other side.

Getting stuck somewhere in the middle or clinging to the sketchy guard rail upon approach might feel safe for the moment, but intuitively most of us know this – the only way out is through.

Great St. Bernard Tunnel, Switzerland
Great St. Bernard Tunnel, Switzerland

I love this verse, Matthew 7:13, 14.

““Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

I spent a lot of years on the wide path and it’s full of people, fun, adventure and excitement. But when I decided to travel the narrow path almost twenty years ago, it required me to make some changes and one of those changes was realizing when you choose the narrow path, there are fewer and fewer travelers on that road with you. Fewer people willing to make sacrifices for growth or to exercise self-control in order to build character.

The path might be narrow and the travelers few and far between, but this path is filled with life. Like good, rich, meaningful life – and just because there aren’t as many people along for the ride, does not mean it is lonely.

Yeah, some days I find myself white-knuckling the steering wheel and clinging to the guard rail – but I know if I can hang on, the tunnel opens up and the destination I’ve been moving toward is finally before me.


supermomPriscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She once lived in Geneva, Switzerland where she ate too much bread and chocolate, wasted her money of watches and clocks and wore really bad clothes. She currently coaches high school volleyball and hopes to pass on her love for the sport to the next generation of amazing athletes.

The Conflict of Quitting and Why It’s Necessary

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This past year, I was honored to be a contributor in a book for student-athletes, helping them transition into the work force after graduation. The book, “Post Moves,” by Angela Lewis was compiled from interviews with 15 former athletes who had successfully transitioned from their playing days into careers in various fields. Angela is also the host and producer of “Athletes as Educators,” and has interviewed many inspirational athletes and leaders who have successfully transitioned from sports into the work force.

In our time together, we spoke of how I found employment after graduation by using a temp agency.

“When you’re in college, the network you have really is kind of given to you. You have a network of people that are ready to help you succeed. When you graduate, that process is up to you. You have to figure out your own network. I had a hard time doing that, so I think getting into a temp agency was really helpful for me and my personality because that was my network,” excerpt from “Post Moves”

I have many success stories of what does work and the great people and jobs I took as a result of working with a staffing agency, but for every success story, I have a handful of failed attempts and hurdles that needed to be jumped to find a good fit.


Newport Beach, CA. Fashion Island. The idyllic setting for a short-term temp assignment – ocean views and just minutes from my apartment. Nice idea, although, that is not exactly how this all goes down.

My assignment was to teach a new software program to a group of attorneys. Easy peasy.

A few pieces of clarifying information here: I was given a program manual (just a program manual), a yellow legal pad for notes and a couple of pencils. I wasn’t given the actual software program to work with nor did I have a computer on which to practice.

I arrived for work, introduced myself to the two attorneys and got ready to do my job. They directed me to my workspace for the day, a windowless closet-office about 6′ by 8′ with a shelf as a desk and one of those rolling wheely chairs. They asked me to keep the door closed so I wouldn’t have any distractions.

After about two hours of trying to decipher the manual (and not seeing or hearing another human being), I peeked my head out in search of life.

Nothing.

There was another door leading into the hallway where there was a water fountain and bathroom, so I opened that door to go get a drink of water. When that door cracked, both attorneys appeared out of their offices and looked at me puzzled.

“Where are you going?” one asked.

“Are you already finished?” the other one questioned.

“No, I’m not finished, I was just going to get a drink of water. I’ll be right back.” I said.

My wheels were already turning and I was getting a really strange vibe off these people. I was only two hours in so I thought I would just make it to lunch and see where I was at that time. I sat in the closet-office for about another hour, mostly laughing to myself about how I thought I may have been on some hidden camera show, this whole situation was just too weird.

Okay, back to it. Read the manual, teach the people. Now, I know there are people out there who can do this, but I wasn’t one of them. Three lessons here:

  1. Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses.
  2. Know whether or not you are the right person for a task.
  3. Know when to quit.

I still hadn’t seen another person since I tried to hydrate myself at the water fountain, but again I emerged from my 6 x 8 closet-office in search of life and a much needed lunch/mental break (I was in my early 20’s, this was mentally taxing). This time I had to knock on one of the doors to summon life.

“Hi, I just wanted to let you know I’m going to go on my lunch now,” I said to the attorney who never looked up from his computer while I was speaking.

“Oh,” he said “You had your fifteen minute break, I didn’t think you needed a lunch break,” he continued, still looking down.

“Okay, I’m just going to make one phone call,” I said (the irony was thick).

I called my recruiter and in hushed tones explained my current situation, she was apologetic and told me to take a lunch break and she would take care of it. I told her thank you, got in my car and left the two attorneys to themselves for the rest of the day. I never went back. For all I know, they are still there, heads in their laptops unaware of any temp they may or may not have hired to teach them a software program.


“As athletes, we do the thing that is in front of us. I think that is one of our best assets. We say, okay, I don’t know the long-term of this, but I do know what’s right here, so I’ve got that figured out,” excerpt from “Post Moves.”

For a former athlete, quitting an assignment (no matter how ridiculous)  created conflict in me. Most of us will do whatever it takes to finish a task or an assignment, we have made our success by executing the plans and programs of others and although we may be mouthy or protest a bit, at the end of the day we are very good at following directions. We understand how daily, intentional work creates big pictures and we don’t quit easily.

But some projects are not ours to complete, finish or crush. If it’s not a strength or a weakness to figure out, if its just noise on the edge of your dream or passion, you need to quickly decide, scrap it and move on.

Hear this: not every environment or challenge is a competition, sometimes it’s just a test.

Not every single thing is worth your time, the wisdom and the meat of your life is in learning how to choose what is. After all these years, all I can think of today, is that had Snapchat been around in those days I would have slayed that story on social.


kimjphotography3Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. She is featured in the book “Post Moves” – The Female Athlete’s Guide to DOMINATE Life After College by Angela Lewis. She eventually realized that sitting in small closet-offices and cubicles was much less fulfilling than doing the things she really loved, parenting her kids, writing about sports and coaching student-athletes to be fulfilled on and off the court.

Why Lifelong Deliberate Practice Matters

Photo Cred: Adam Bow, cheesy progression app cres: me
Photo Cred: Adam Bow

Is there any one thing you practice every day?

Not a discipline, like morning quiet time or meditation or even exercise, but something you go out of your way to practice? Something you deliberately set time to work on in order to get better at? Your golf swing, calculus, memorizing data, learning a musical instrument or voice practice?

I’m reading a book called “Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise” written by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. It examines the science of purposeful or deliberate practice – I also happen to be practicing something right now. I’ve practiced something every day of my life for as long as I can remember (writing is one of my more consistent practices), but for the past six months, I’ve been practicing jumping. Actually, I’ve been relearning how to jump and land properly.

You might be thinking “but you played volleyball for years, isn’t jumping something you just do? Why do you need to relearn something you already know how to do?”

Good questions. I’ve asked them myself on particularly frustrating days.

Why am I practicing this? Why does it matter? Isn’t it too late to be figuring this stuff out? Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way, no it’s not too late, yes, it matters and also, when the zombies come, I’ll be able to get over all those fences that seem to be in the way during my important chase scene.

But most importantly, in recent years, I couldn’t jump or land without pain and I wanted that to change.


“If you practice something enough, your brain will repurpose neurons to help with the task even if they already have another job to do,” Ericsson and Pool.

So, in June, I hired a professional fitness coach. I wanted to test my physical capabilities under the direction of deliberate coaching and also, I wanted to do things (like jump) without pain. I wasn’t just looking for reps on reps kind of practice, but, deliberate, intentional practice. So, for the past six months I’ve been rebuilding things – slowly, deliberately, intentionally. It’s not all roses. I’ve also resisted, become frustrated with my progress, envied other people lifting barbells while I try not to snap myself with an arsenal of assorted exercise bands. I had to practice seemingly unrelated things to get where I wanted to go and I didn’t get to jump right away.

Yah. I know, right?

It went a little something like this:

  • single-leg band work
  • goblet squats
  • single-leg band work
  • single-leg band work
  • single-leg reverse deadlifts with a band
  • deadlifts
  • single-leg band work (developing theme)
  • single-leg jumping and landing
  • jumping and landing with two feet

Abridged, but you get the idea.

The good news for me is that I’m jumping – with less pain and with more frequency than I was six months ago. The other good news is that with daily, deliberate practice I’m developing new (and also cashing in on some old) brainy mental stuff too, like, mental strategies and patterns that keep me motivated and interested.

In short, my jumping practice doesn’t just benefit my jumping, it benefits me in other areas of my life too.

“Even when the skill is being practiced is primarily physical, a major factor is the development of the proper mental representation,” Ericsson, Pool.

Practicing something that is physical in nature not only offers physical benefits and satisfies my need to get airborne, it also stimulates the areas in my brain that help develop mental strategies (Ericsson and Pool call these “mental representations” or maps). As I get better at the task I’m practicing, I gain confidence with that skill, but I also gain confidence to try more things outside of those parameters.

Which means I learn to jump, but I’m willing to learn other things too.

Like, say, dance.


“The key change that occurs in our adaptable brains in response to deliberate practice is the development of better mental representations, which in turn open up new possibilities for improved performance,” Ericsson and Pool.

I’m not a dancer. (I know, shocking).

Recently, however, I danced (okay, memorized steps) a small part in our local production of the Nutcracker, with my husband and children. I learned the steps in just over a week of rehearsals and although it took a few days for my brain to connect what I was seeing to what my feet were supposed to do, once I figured out how to break it down into little segments it started coming together.

The music, the choreographer’s counting, following my husband’s lead and watching the more seasoned dancers around me all played a role in developing a mental plan to execute my part of the dance. As the steps became second nature, I tried to add emotion that matched the story and had to figure out what to do with my anxiety about doing all of this in front of an auditorium full of people, many of whom I knew personally.

“As you push yourself to do something new – to develop a new skill or sharpen an old one – you are also expanding and sharpening your mental representations, which will in turn make it possible for you to do more than you could before,” Ericsson and Pool.

Bingo.

Which leads me back to why learning how to jump (or how to do anything) is so important.

Jumping leads to dancing leads to expanding and sharpening mental representations leads to taking on challenges of all kinds, physical or otherwise. So, with deliberate, intentional practice of some skill, you become more adaptable and that leads to doing and trying new things. And I have good news, we all qualify for that.

You may not want to practice jumping or dancing, but how about a foreign language, memorizing strings of numbers or famous quotes or scripture or practicing an instrument or playing chess?

That new year’s resolution coming up? Yeah, don’t do that. Find something you enjoy and want to get good at, find someone to coach or teach you and give you feedback and start practicing – every day, with deliberation. Yeah? I mean, honestly what have you got to lose?


setback happen. take a good look, dust yourself off and get back in the game.Priscilla Tallman is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She holds her Crossfit L1 Trainer Certification as well as the CrossFit Mobility Certification and an undergraduate and graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She has written for FloVolleyball, Volleyball Magazine, The Art of Coaching Volleyball, Sweat RX, Gorgo Fitness Magazine, CrossFit Fury and the CrossFit Games. She is married with two children and in a former life played collegiate and professional volleyball. This blog is a collection of her own opinions, stories and process and do not reflect that of the sites or magazines for which she writes. Even though she was once called “The Spikedoctor” during her playing career, she is definitely not a doctor of any kind.

A Lesson In Chill From One of the Greats – Zeke Bratkowski

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photo credit: ca.picclick.com

In 2006, I met Zeke Bratkowski.

Bratkowski, who played for The University of Georgia in the early 1950’s, was a standout quarterback for the university who went on to play professionally for the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. He also served two years in the U.S. Air Force (while he was still with the Bears) and had a full coaching career in the NFL that spanned thirty years and six teams. He’s got a football pedigree that every kid (and his dad) who throws the pig skin around after Thanksgiving dinner would be envious over.

But, that’s the thing – of all the things I remember about meeting Zeke, being prideful wasn’t one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, he had lots of old football stories – the kind you have from playing with a brotherhood of teammates for many years – and he didn’t not talk about his accomplishments, but he had a stillness about him that communicated “yeah, I’ve seen some things.”

In a word, Zeke had chill.


Our paths crossed as part of an induction ceremony for the University of Georgia’s Circle of Honor. Since Georgia doesn’t have a Hall of Fame, nor do they retire player jerseys, the Circle of Honor represents this kind of milestone and gives former athletes a chance to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the university through athletics and beyond. I was being inducted in 2006 along with Heather Stepp McCormick (gymnastics), George Bezecny (tennis), Dick Copas (golf) and Zeke Bratkowski (football).

As part of the weekend, we were introduced on the field during half-time of that weekend’s football game and then we had the option to sit together for the remainder of the game. My husband and I stayed for the game and sat right next to Zeke and his wife. They were kind, generous people who drank Sprite after Sprite after Sprite (or was it Diet Coke?).

In typical UGA football fashion, the Bulldogs handed us hope early in the first quarter, but then squandered their lead putting us on pins and needles for the next three quarters. My husband and I (along with Zeke’s wife) got worked up over the Dawgs, but Zeke never said a word. He sat through the game as cool as a cucumber, while everyone else around us was going bananas.

He watched.

He shifted in his seat.

He asked for more Sprite.

Now and again, he would mutter something that I couldn’t hear.

Not one bead of sweat.

Not one clap of the hands.

Not one swear word.

Just watching.

Chill.

Finally, our beloved Bulldogs pulled off a win. The crowd went crazy – as Dawg fans do.

I watched Zeke.

He let out slight exclamation of cheer, gathered his empty soda cups and he and his wife were gone.


That story will always stick with me. Why? Because I have zero chill. I was one of those intense players who got worked up over all kinds of stuff. I am still one of those people who wears most of my emotion on my sleeve – the good stuff and the not so good stuff. I am one of those coaches who wants to tell each kid how awesome they are all the time because I think they need to hear it.

But what I learned from Zeke is that chill can also speak loudly.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because he played and coached at such a high level that nothing much ruffles his feathers anymore or maybe it’s just his personality to be still, but something about that experience made an impression on me (and my husband – we still talk about that game).

I might not ever have chill like Zeke, but I will always respect and admire those who do.

WE’RE FINE! (no, seriously) WE’RE FINE!

There’s a phenomenon in volleyball these days. The genesis is unknown, but if you watch any high school, club or college match you will hear one common thing said over and over again – “we’re fine.” It’s unclear when it changed from older versions of self-soothing, like, “my bad” or the rather demanding, albeit whiny, motivators of yore “let’s gooo!!” or “come on you guuuuys!” but having listened to team after team speak the words “we’re fine,” one can only assume it going to be here a while. Here are just a few samples of when a player might use the term:

“Blocked every ball straight down…also netted every single time, but, WE’RE FINE. ”

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“I just hammered a ball on the ten foot line (from my side and under the net) but I’M FINE, WE’RE FINE!”

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“I just hit a ball so hard angle on my side that it travelled parallel across the bottom of the tape for at least five seconds, but, WE’RE FINE.”

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“My coach told me to serve to area five, but I got an ace by serving area three instead, so WE’RE TOTALLY FINE.”

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“The score is 8-22 in the third, we are down fourteen points and lost the first two sets, but, seriously, WE’RE FINE…no really, WE’RE TOTALLY FINE. LET’S KEEP SAYING IT TO EACH OTHER, OKAY?”

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“You, you, you! No! Me, me, me. No, YOU! WE’RE FINE.”

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“Totally got six packed by my own hit after it was blocked, don’t worry, I’M FINE…WE’RE FINE.”

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“Up 23-8 but the other team just made a huge point run off our errors making it 23-22, but seriously guys…WE’RE FINE! One pass, WE’RE FINE!”

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“Been tooled fifteen times by the same hitter and I haven’t fixed my blocking, but I’m fine. WE’RE FINE. EVERYONE’S FINE! (Especially that hitter, that hitter is TOTALLY FINE).”

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I don’t know, it’s probably just me, but it seems as though whenever someone says “we’re fine” that they are not even remotely fine, but it’s all good, right? WE’RE FINE, right? Happy passing, setting, hitting, blocking and serving my friends! I love you all and this crazy sport and wouldn’t change a thing.

From Player to Coach: Understanding My Coaching Philosophy

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Me dabbling in the coaching pool. This is when I knew it was time to get back into the game and surround myself with the people of my sport. Photo cred: Adam Bow @rxdarkroom

CHAPTER 1

Mrs. Cockshutt was my first ever coach, well, she was actually my P.E. teacher. I was eight years old in the 4th grade and was beginning my year at a new school. Having skipped 3rd grade, I was a year and a half (if not two full years) younger than everyone else in my class which meant I was also smaller and weaker than most kids.

Mrs. Cockshutt didn’t care, in her P.E. class, we were all the same. Our school was an old sorority house, so we had this massive house/school with a massive back yard – complete with a tennis court and ample running and exploring space. Some days, P.E. meant running around playing tag and other days were more structured. One day in particular, we played a new game called volleyball tennis.

Volleyball tennis is exactly how it sounds. One tennis net, one volleyball, one contact per side with one bounce before sending it back over the net to the other side. I immediately loved it and when it was time to do our end of the year report for P.E., I scoured every Encyclopedia Britannica with the letter “V” on the spine to do my research.

In 5th grade, we changed schools. Lucky for me, my new school had a volleyball program and the new coach was sure to be just as wonderful as Mrs. Cockshutt. Al Bennett was my home room teacher and volleyball coach and one of the three main drivers behind Austin Junior Volleyball, which would become what is now one of the premier volleyball clubs in the nation, and one of the best in Texas. Austin Juniors has gone on to produce more Division I collegiate All-Americans (I’m one of them) than you can shake a coaches clip board at. To say I got lucky getting to be part of the inaugural class of club players in Austin would be an understatement.

I hit volleyball gold.


CHAPTER 2

In 1985, however, club volleyball was very new and I was still very small. I was still a year-and-a-half younger than most kids in my class and my team was comprised of various grade levels, so while everyone was starting to get muscles (and boobs and periods), I was still wearing a baggy size XS and trying to squeeze nutrition out of a steady diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni. Not only was my body 9 years-old, my maturity level and emotional development were also the same age – but I was adaptable.

A scrappy, skinny thing, I had desire enough to reach the moon, but I lacked talent, size and let’s call a spade a spade – I wasn’t athletic – at all. Still, my school and club coaches were hard on me. But they wanted me to be better, right? So, I put up with it as did my parents.

I didn’t get better right away. I didn’t get better for a long time. After about five years of club and school volleyball (in which I spent a great deal of time on the bench), I had taken in a lot of really tough coaching. I had taken in toxic words about my ability, harsh criticism of my attitude, eye rolls, loud sighs, all the yelling and sideline body language that would shame Brene Brown into a corner to process. It wasn’t all bad though, I had a lot of fun with my teammates and there were glimpses of hope when I got put in to serve every now and again.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had enough talent to hold my own and had settled into what I thought was normal coaching. I had no idea that anyone did anything different except yell and throw tantrums on the sideline or shame and criticize in post game talks. That was just what I knew and over time, it was actually effective for me. I used shame to motivate me to perform better. I used eye rolls to put in hours and hours of reps on my own time. As a player, I’d become somewhat desensitized – not immune – to it all.

But the thing about being coached by people who chip away at your confidence is that when it’s your turn to coach, you don’t know what else to do except have the same high standards and expectations for every player regardless of size, ability, desire, etc. You tend to coach the way you’ve been coached. That’s exactly what I did after I finished playing.

I only coached club volleyball for one season before quitting. See, I had a 16-3’s team, which meant I had kids all over the spectrum. Some were serious, some were just there to have fun, some were there because their parents made them play – for someone with high standards and unrealistic expectations, this was a nightmare. I did the only thing I knew how to do – yell, roll my eyes, make them run, communicate disappointment with my body language and who even knows what else.

Intuitively, I knew coaching wasn’t for me and I also knew, those girls didn’t need what I had to offer.


CONCLUSION

The last time I coached a team was in the 1900’s – 1998 to be exact.

Firmly planted in the 21st century, 2016 to be exact, I finally felt it was the right time to see if I could actually be a good coach. I’ve been “coaching” through writing and speaking and encouraging parents. In fact, my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Clinical Psychology were actually for the sole purpose of counseling athletes through transitions (and perhaps bad coaching), but it was time to get back in the gym and back around the kids.

Here’s what I can tell you from where I sit. I have absolutely no grudges or ill-feelings for any of my coaches. I am extremely grateful for the way my life through sports has given me a wealth of experiences and I’m completely aware that had I not been lucky enough to play for some of the best coaches in Texas (they are still producing champions), my story might look much different.

However, as coach, I couldn’t imagine speaking to one of the athletes on my team in the manner by which I was spoken, I can’t imagine telling one of them “you suck” or making jokes within ear shot of them about their ethnicity. My responsibility to these girls (and to my family) is to challenge them and encourage them. My job is to communicate their potential and ability and see them as individuals, each on their own path – AND to take all of that and help them work together for a common goal.

I have been overwhelmed most of this season that God has given me a second chance to impact someone’s life. Sometimes I sit in my car after a game and cry thinking how lucky I am and think about my little nine year-old self who had a heck of a dream to become a volleyball player someday.  It’s been a wonderfully hard journey and I wouldn’t take even one second back.


AFTERWORD

I’ve hesitated writing this because I truly, truly do have utmost respect for all my coaches and I know who they are as people now and know they continue to impact our sport in great ways. Most of what I speak of here is from my formative years between the ages of 9 – 14. Once I was old enough to talk back, I did – and I learned how to take care of myself in most cases. My high school and college coaches were a walk in the park mostly because I had already learned how to take a lot as an athlete.

I am forever grateful for that. I really, really am.

I wrote this mostly because I think it’s important to talk openly about it. If you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing as a coach or what impact it may have in kids life (especially formative years), take a step back and examine it. I never wanted any kid to feel what I felt like after a lashing and when I found myself doing just that, I had to stop. We are the adults and we need to know our limits. I needed to find my limit and I needed time to figure out who I wanted to be as a coach. I think I know now.

Sincerely,

Coach T.

Confessions of a Lifetime Athlete

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So, I was going to say former athlete, but if you are anything like me, you know that once you are an athlete you’re always an athlete. Physical limitations and injuries may sideline us for a bit, but eventually we make our way back onto the field. It isn’t a perfect science (and I wish some of these weren’t true or necessary), but embracing them is much easier than resisting them at this point, and that’s good for everyone.

I wonder if you can relate to any of these confessions too?

  1. I STILL HAVE COACHES: I humbly admit: I need direction. I don’t necessarily need someone to yell at me anymore but having a training program or fitness class helps me stay on track. I haven’t had an actual coach since I stopped playing, but through coaches at the gym I get direction physically and through mentors/friends outside the gym I get direction emotionally, spiritually and relationally. Working hard individually is fantastic and I love doing that too, but knowing I can ask questions (and that there is someone who can answer them) is a great asset in life.
  2. I STILL HAVE GOALS THAT WON’T QUIT: Some days I think training for the Olympics would be an easier feat than trying to “train for life.” See when you are still playing to win, you have external forces working to produce a desired result. Eventually, we internalize a certain goal and if we are motivated and driven enough, we won’t quit until we’ve achieved that goal. When you stop playing, the external forces are fewer and fewer which means if we don’t have something to internalize, goals may seem a bit abstract, especially if we are injured or restricted physically in some way. Internalizing a value may have more benefit for a lifetime athlete than internalizing a specific goal. These days I train because my brain needs the stimulus I’ve always given it and my body needs to stay healthy. To put it simply – when I do things in the gym, I can do things outside the gym too and though there is no “win” on the line, I enjoy training simply because I know it’s good for me.  I’ve internalized that value.
  3. I STILL HAVE SPORTS DREAMS: It’s fewer and far between, but I still get sports dreams every now and again. I’ll be falling asleep and drifting off into that twilight place when I am suddenly jarred awake, shoulder jerking up to my ear because a ball is headed right for my face! Volleyball players know this too well. Ever been laying in bed falling asleep playing a mental game of pepper? Our bodies and brains have remarkable memories and sometimes I still get crazy volleyball dreams creeping into my psyche (yes, I’ve self-analyzed them).
  4. I STILL COMPETE: Let’s not confuse competing with winning. Even though winning still feels pretty sweet, it’s not my end game anymore. Most of the time the competition is between my ears. I don’t beat myself up over sports stuff anymore, it’s not useful, but I do love seeing what I can do when I put my mind to something I haven’t done yet or a new skill I’m trying to learn. I know where I need work and I know when I don’t enjoy things. My competition floor is basically me convincing myself I can do something even when I don’t want to or when I feel scared that I might fail – doing something even when I know I won’t win or when I know I’m the slowest or the weakest in the group. I may not look like a fierce competitor, but my goal is to keep going long after everyone else has stopped to increase my chances of being in the game longer.
  5. I DON’T HAVE A “WHATEVS” ATTITUDE: Everything has a purpose. Everything is intentional and most things are thought through. I do have some spontaneity in life and when I get caught up it’s pretty great, but mostly I view life with intention. The people I hang around with, the books I choose to read, where I spend my money, the way I spend my down time or time off – using my time intentionally is important to me. It helps me enjoy the time I spend with family and friends. If I’m intentional throughout the day and the week, I can be fully in the moments I choose to unplug and just enjoy the people in my life.

So, how about you? Any of these you can relate to? Anything you would add to the list?

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